Anita Zacker walks around the Mustard Seed’s toy shop, a veritable Santa’s workshop of stuffed animals, Barbies, trucks, puzzles, hats and mittens.
There was a time when Zacker, a single mom, relied on the donated toys as Christmas presents for her daughters, eight-year-old Kokoah and seven-year-old Kozayah, who attend Tillicum Elementary.
Now, she’s a paid intern at the Mustard Seed Street Church, helping families collect their Christmas hampers and pick out toys for their kids. The Times Colonist Christmas Funds works with the Mustard Seed to help people in need.
“Getting to see it from the other side and getting to give back is just amazing,” said the 37-year-old from Victoria.
Zacker was previously a client of the Mustard Seed Family Centre, a program in 2012 that aims to help break the cycle of poverty by teaching parents life skills, financial literacy and cooking.
She said the help she received inspired her to pursue a career in social work. She completed her social work diploma at CDI college and started her practicum with the Mustard Seed in September. When she finished the practicum in November, she was hired as an intern.
Zacker said being able to share experiences with Mustard Seed clients will help build trust and send the message that poverty is not always permanent.
“Just to say: ‘I've been there, I can help you. I can show you the way, I can show you the steps,’ ” she said.
She still relies on the Mustard Seed for monthly food hampers, which give her financial room to afford a new pair of running shoes or skating lessons for her girls.
Zacker said there remains a stigma around relying on a food bank, but there’s no shame in asking for help.
The Christmas food hampers families receive include staple items, which Zacker said can last some families until February.
This year, Kokoah and Kozayah have asked for a microphone and a keyboard, Zacker joking that they could start their own band. She said she won’t be taking any gifts from the toy shop until the rest of the community has been served.
Zacker said that knowing she could go to the Mustard Seed and get a gift, stuffed animals and stocking stuffers for each of her daughters when times were tough took away the stress of Christmas.
“It took a lot of pressure off and you could focus on the true meaning of Christmas,” she said. “You don’t have to focus on what you don’t have.”
How to donate to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund
• Go to our Canada Helps page at timescolonist.com/donate, which is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.
• Mail a cheque, payable to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund Society, to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 2621 Douglas St., Victoria V8T 4M2.
• Use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Outside those hours, messages will be accepted.